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5 Qualities that Make a Good Leader in the Social Media Age

The book Humanize makes the case for innovating the way we lead and manage our organizations. It suggests that last century’s mechanical models of management have become outdated in today’s more social world, and our challenge now is to create more human organizations that are more open, trustworthy, generative, and courageous. These are the very same elements that made social media a success.

At a recent meet-up in Washington D.C. the authors and four panelists shared insights about how their organizations embraced the principles in Humanize as they changed their workflows, went through reorganizations, and embraced social tools and approaches to sharing information and completing tasks. The conversation was as much about organizational leadership as it was about social tools.

What makes a good leader in your organization?

  1. They provide clear direction.
  2. They use positive language when things change. They embrace change.
  3. They are transparent and share information freely.
  4. They reinforce the value of experimentation—even failure.
  5. They talk aloud sharing their rationale and understanding with the team. They leverage the expertise of others to help them solve the tough problems.

Leaders Provide Clear Direction

A common complaint you hear from dissatisfied employees is that their managers micro-manage them. If you ask a few probing questions you usually discover that the employee’s frustration is that they have little control in how they can solve the problem because their boss’s expectation is that they will work the same way that they do. Of course, the boss’s intentions are usually pure in that they view their approach as proven—after all, it has worked for them.

As a leader you need to remember that the goal is clarity in the assignment, not telling staff how to solve the problem. Your staff want autonomy in how they approach the assignment. And when you provide them autonomy, you will often find that staff are more satisfied with their work and the results may be better than your expectations.

Leaders Embrace Change

As a leader in your organization, you are always on stage. Your staff are looking to you for how they should respond to situations. If you respond positively to changing conditions, so will they.

Leaders are Transparent and Share Information Freely

The clock is ticking on organizations that rely heavily on processes, tools, and control. We are already seeing evidence that successful organizations are more human. One example is American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) that was recently named one of the top 50 places to work by Washingtonian magazine. During the panel discussion Crystal Williams of AILA noted that what brings satisfaction to a workplace is giving employees control over that environment and by focusing on collaboration and community. She further noted by encouraging AILA employees to participate in social media and to connect with their members on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to not only get AILA’s message out, but to also help employees connect with members as real people.

In Work Happy, Jill Geiser offers these tips for building transparency in your teams:

  • Don’t assume that people can read your mind or that your actions speak for themselves
  • Explain your intentions. Be clear.
  • Don’t hesitate to share the "why" behind your decisions
  • Make sure your deputies feel free to warn you when something you’re about to do has the potential to be taken the wrong way.
  • Cultivate your top performers to become your candid advisors. They see how your leadership affects the team, and have more confidence than most to call you out when necessary.
  • Thank anyone who has the courage to warn you that your Evil Twin is in the room.

Leaders Reinforce the Value of Experimentation—Even Failure

Innovation does not happen overnight. It requires experimentation and learning. You need to create a culture in your organization where your staff feel safe taking risks and learning from them. Sometimes; however, mistakes are made and your clients or customers become unhappy. How you respond to these mistakes will set the tone of your organization culture. Sunayna Tuteja,VP of Social Media & Digital Communications at TD Bank spoke of these as “opportunities to learn and recover with flair.” It was a seemingly of-the-cuff remark, but it tells a powerful story about how TD Bank’s view their ability to experiment and learn from it.

Leaders Leverage the Expertise of Others

Nobody in your organization expects you to have all the answers; however, they do expect you to find someone does have the answer. Reggie Henry from American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) shared a powerful tip to gain insight from his staff to solve problems creatively. He simply talks to his team aloud, face-to-face, a unique approach in today’s age where email is king. For example, when ASAE was adopting a new technology platform, Reggie knew he was not an expert user, but he laid his assumptions out there for the team to hear. By talking aloud his team was able to hear his assumptions, correct them if required, or work collaboratively to solve the problem. I loved the idea of simply putting your assumptions rationale out there for your team. It reminds me of a core principle of Agile Software Development which states that the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a team is conversation.

All these ideas might seem simple and rudimentary, but they are often forgotten in organizations busy with processes and keeping up with the competition. Embracing change whether it be with new technology or social media, needs to be faced with strong and human leadership.